SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IS THE JOB OF WATER OPERATORS
Universal access to clean water and sanitation is one of 17 Global Goals that make up the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goal 6). Private water operators through AquaFed have advocated for several years on the need to set a goal dedicated to water. This important step has been achieved. The framework became operational in 2016.
Now this goal needs to be implemented, together with the other sustainable development goals that depend on it, such as the one for health (Goal 3) and that for cities (Goal 11) etc.
Sustainable development is an essential part of the job of private water operators. The services they deliver have a direct impact on economic, environmental and societal progress all over the world. Their skills are used by public authorities to ensure the quality and the affordability of water and wastewater services in sustainable ways.
Water operators provide a link between the natural and the human water cycles. They take water from nature to provide it safely to users – and they collect used water, treat it to remove pollution and return it to nature. This sustains the natural water cycle and ensures service continuity day and night all year long, even as conditions are changing constantly. Private operators strive to operate sustainably and support the sustainability of the communities they serve. The public authorities who employ them look to them to fulfil service delivery that is in itself sustainable. They also seek advice and actions that enhance the security and sustainability of the towns, cities and villages that they are responsible for.
Private operators work every day to perform in a sustainable way. They have to extract water from the environment and return used water without causing damage. Depending on the locations and the directions given by authorities, private operators are committed to manage water resources, pump and purify raw water, operate water distribution systems, supply clean water to domestic and industrial users, collect, treat and /or re-use waste water.
Private operator’s activities are not limited to service delivery. They also include protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems such as wetlands, rivers and lakes, coastal waters and forests.
Protecting aquifers is done by monitoring water levels and water quality. This provides information on which operators and public authorities can take decisions about what is needed. In a number of cases, private operators have been able to work constructively with farmers in ways that help to protect water quality and availability. Working together to optimise the way fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are used can be particularly effective. This is done extensively in the U.K and France.
Working with industry to optimise water use and to limit pollution is also effective. This is done in the context of municipal wastewater and also with contracts and processes specific to business and industry. Specialised industrial parks provide a good example in China and Europe. Industrial wastewater can also be recycled within an industrial site or reused in agriculture as is the case in Brazil and Mexico.
Increasingly aquifers can be recharged with treated surface water or reclaimed used water. In this way aquifer levels can be maintained and barriers against intrusion of salty or polluted water created. Examples include Orange County in the USA and the Seine valley in France.
Preserving wetlands is a viable way of ensuring water resource and habitat protection. Constructed wetlands are used more and more frequently to manage storm water and as a final treatment for wastewater.
Good wastewater treatment and storm water management protects rivers, beaches and bathing waters and the inshore marine environment. These are all important natural environments and they also have significant social and economic functions. Protecting and restoring aquatic environments also protects biodiversity.
2/ Climate Change
Water and atmosphere are closely linked and it is man-made pollution of both that is driving anthropogenic climate change. Water operators contribute to the efforts to overcome climate change in three important ways.
1/ By the de-pollution of water
2/ By energy management in their operations
3/ By environmental protection and restoration.
Many of AquaFed’s members are actively engaged in implementing these processes, looking for innovative ways to reduce energy in practice as well as undertaking research and development programmes aimed at improving energy efficiency.
Beyond their own direct operations, private operators are also often engaged, with public authorities and municipalities, in helping and encouraging water users and the general public to protect the environment and reduce or absorb greenhouse gases.
AquaFed members contributed actively to the COP 21 Paris climate summit and AquaFed is a signatory to the Paris Pact on Water
3/ PRIVATE OPERATORS AS ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGERS
Within some of their contracts, private water operators are also required to help municipalities to:
Managing rainwater flows
As urban areas become more densely built up, the larger volumes of rainwater that fall on them must be managed safely. Rain that falls on roofs, roads, car parks and other hard surfaces can create very large and strong flows of water. This water needs to be controlled safely to avoid inconvenience, damage and danger to people and property. There are two important dimensions to be managed: volume and quantity.
To manage the volumes of water, requires the infrastructure of pipes, channels, pumping stations, retention basins and outflow structures to be designed, built and maintained. The physical geography of each city has a big impact on the solutions needed. Important factors include how hilly the area is, whether it is in a floodplain or on the coast and how frequent and intense the rainstorms are.
Storm water is not as clean as one imagines. Rainwater when it hits the ground can already be polluted by the atmosphere. After it has fallen, it picks up further pollution. For example, there are many polluting substances on roads and car parks that range from: animal droppings; oil, fuel and wear products from vehicles; road materials and de-icing products; chemical spills; landscaping chemicals etc.
Prepare and protect against flooding
Water related disasters are by far the largest cause of human loss of life due to natural disasters. This risk of catastrophic folding with danger to life and property is increasing annually as a result of changing climate, sea level rise and growth of population.
Planning infrastructure and systems to provide protection to people and human activities is a responsibility that falls to local governments. This involves some very difficult decisions and a high level of technical and operational expertise. Private operators can help with this. On a number of occasions flooding has been among the reasons why a contract has been established with a private operator (Bordeaux, Bucharest, Casablanca).
In addition, many water treatment installations have to be located in flood prone locations. The risk assessment of the vulnerability of water and wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations as well as the ability to protect and operate them during floods are tasks expected of private operators.
All of these challenges are becoming more severe with climate change.
Measures to mitigate the impact of drought
Climate change is also giving rise to more frequent and more intense droughts. These cannot be prevented, but planning and preparing for them and increasing water security by careful operation can mitigate their impact.
Working constantly to eliminate wastage of water and making it possible to recycle and reuse water several times over make a real contribution to water security and the ability to resist drought.
Protect the aquatic and related environment
The quality of the aquatic environment is of direct importance to water operators because it is the source of their “raw material”. Where they are able to they therefore take measures to protect this environment. A particularly important way of doing this is wastewater treatment and also the management of storm water. Both of these actions are designed to prevent pollution entering the natural environment.
Protecting the aquatic environment often involves helping to manage the related land-based environment. This can include working with farmers and foresters as well as with citizens, various environmental protection organisations and NGOs.
Contribute to creating a circular economy
Many cities are increasingly looking to the circular economy as a way to enhance their sustainability reputation. Private operators contribute to this movement by innovating in the way they operate. By taking a whole life approach to their activities they aim to recover energy, useful materials such as nutrients from wastewater as well as the water itself. Their work is often closely associated with other aspects of urban management in such actions as home composting of solid waste with sewage sludge to produce gas and soil conditioners.
Public Health, Equality, Education, Human Rights, Social Cohesion, Wellbeing
There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 6. But, every year billions of people, are still affected by diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.
The safe supply and removal of water, domestic and public hygiene and safe aquatic environments are vital components of individual and collective health. There are direct links between the effectiveness of public water services and levels of disease and public health expenditure. Good water services remain the most effective and cheapest form of preventive health. At the same time curative health systems that involve hospitals, clinics and surgeries cannot operate effectively without safe water supplies and reliable wastewater management.
All individuals need clean water every day. Their basic needs for water are recognised in the human right to water that was passed into international law in 2010. This human right has precise requirements for States. It means that everybody should have access to sufficient quantities of clean water for their personal uses. It also means that this water should be safe, accessible, acceptable, affordable and can be obtained without discrimination.
Sanitation and hygiene are also vitally important for human health and dignity. For this reason, the human right to sanitation was identified as a right in itself in 2015.
Governments have the responsibility to turn the human rights to water and to sanitation into realities progressively for all people. With their operation experience and skills all over the world, private water operators enable public authorities to meet these obligations.
Delivering water and sanitation reliably changes life for people, particular women and children. Almost half the world’s women still have no adequate water and sanitation at home. Shortage of water, indignity, sickness, stunting, drudgery, deprivation, and lack of hygiene – this is their water world. Women suffer the most from these deficiencies. This is because they are usually in charge of household activities, the rearing and education of their children and caring for their families. Also because of the impact on their personal hygiene. Women benefit the most from the improvements that private water operators strive to achieve every day.
The link between water, sanitation and hygiene with education is an important additional dimension of water services. When delivery of safe water to each home is not in place, families have no choice but to organise alternative ways to obtain the minimum quantity of water they need. It usually falls on the women and girls of the household to fetch water, often from far away from where they live. Doing so is one of the things that consumes their time and energy and prevents them from being able to attend school or be available to engage in an economic activity or to have a job.
The link with education is even stronger for girls. The lack of safe sanitation in their homes and schools is a major cause of non-attendance and underperformance of girls in schools. The absence or inadequacy of toilets and facilities for menstrual hygiene limit or prevent girls from attending school, or causes them to drop out before completing their education. This is a major problem in developing countries, where toilets and safe water are often non-existent in schools, but it can also be a problem in schools in developed countries if adequate hygiene and maintenance is not in place.
The prime role of private water operators is to ensure that homes, health establishments and schools have safe and reliable supplies of water, that the used water is removed and treated safely and the surroundings are maintained in hygienic condition. They also have a role to work with the public authorities and other sectors of society to help build and maintain awareness of the importance of water related health issues.
The above shows that, while water and wastewater services are of importance to all individuals and their families, these services also have a wider role in society.
Jobs, Economic activity, Competitivity
Private water operators’ activities generate local dynamism everywhere they operate.
Almost all economic activity, business, commerce and industry requires effective water and wastewater services. Without these services, the economic activities that sustain all societies, especially complex modern ones, cannot operate properly to create the employment and wealth that all peoples aspire to. This means that public authorities and their service providers have to think beyond the public health and convenience dimensions of water services and also consider the contribution that they make to their local economy.
Water services operations themselves create some jobs directly and other employment in their supply chains. Providing good quality jobs for men and women is important for all private water operators. The quality of their service and their reputation depends on the dedication, skill and professionalism of the people that they employ at all levels. For this reason, the training and transfer of know-how and technology are important parts of their contracts with pubic authorities.
The role of water services in creating opportunities for employment is much greater than the direct jobs they offer. It works on both the supply side of the labour market, making a contribution to the employability of people by freeing their time, contributing to their health and education.
Water services also work on the demand side. By contributing to the efficiency of the services they offer, private operators help public authorities and local governments to ensure that businesses of all sizes and industrial activities can thrive and be attracted to invest in their communities.
In these ways, the impact of investments in water and sanitation infrastructure and operations have multiplier effects in the economy as a whole. Obvious examples are the impact of good aquatic environments on opportunities for tourism and leisure industries, for fish farming and bathing beaches. Good water supplies are also very important for small businesses such as hairdressers, cafes, butchers and bakeries.
In some cases, private operators are involved in providing water supplies or wastewater management specifically to important industries or industrial parks. This can either be done as part of a general PPP contract, or through dedicated contracts with the industries themselves.